Dan's Review: "Stronger" demonstrates the heroism of healing
Sep 23, 2017 01:04AM ● Published by Dan Metcalf
Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany in Stronger - © 2017 Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions.
Rated R for language throughout, some graphic injury images, and brief sexuality/nudity.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, Miranda Richardson, Richard Lane Jr., Nate Richman, Lenny Clarke, Patty O'Neil, Clancy Brown, Kate Fitzgerald, Danny McCarthy, Frankie Shaw, Carlos Sanz.
Written by John Pollono, based on the book by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter.
Directed by David Gordon Green.
Movies made about real life situations are often more dramatic than the events upon which they are based. One such real-life drama that bucks this trend is the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. It was a shocking act of terrorism, followed by an intense and bloody manhunt, played out on live television. 2015’s Patriot’s Day highlighted the hunt for the bombers. Stronger is a movie based on one survivor’s struggle to recover from the event.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jeff Bauman, the man who lost both legs in the bombing while waiting for his on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) to finish the race. Bauman is credited with giving investigators a description of one of the bombers after awakening from surgery, which helped police track them down. Heralded as a hero, Bauman struggles to deal with fame while also dealing with the mental anguish that comes with losing his legs. It doesn’t help that his mother (Miranda Richardson) lacks understanding and his extended family has a lot of deficiencies when it comes to tact. Meanwhile, the romance between Jeff and Erin blossoms as he recovers from the physical wounds. Jeff’s psychological injuries are mostly ignored, putting a strain on the relationship. The pressure of hero worship and the weight of his traumatic experience become almost too much to bear until Jeff is reunited with Carlos (Carlos Sanz), the man who saved him from dying at the bombing. Meeting Carlos gives Jeff a new perspective, along with learning how his story has inspired a community to bounce back from the bombing.
Stronger is a very good film about a very bad moment, with an excellent performance from Gyllenhaal. The drama of Bauman’s experience is heart wrenching, and the movie makes you root for the guy, even with his flaws. I’m not sure Stronger is entirely accurate regarding Bauman’s lack of awareness for having post-traumatic stress, but the movie certainly captures the need for healing.
I was a little annoyed with the depiction of Bauman’s family in Stronger, who are portrayed as constantly loud and annoying, lacking any self-awareness or compassion, “busting chops” of everyone they meet and among each other. I’ve known enough Bostonians to know that such stereotypes are all too often exaggerated, and real folks from Beantown are more like the rest of us than we’ve been led to believe in popular media.
Despite this small defect, Stronger is a film that gets a lot of credit for proving that heroism is not always the triumph of good guys over bad guys, and that sometimes, being a hero is having the courage to heal.